[Listen to a radio program featuring selections from this week's New Arrivals here.]
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city:
PICK OF THE WEEK. Interscope debut from the most promising new rapper in ages lives up to and exceeds his potential. A shockingly fantastic record, better than everything, to be frank, that I’ve personally heard this year. Jordan Sargent tells it:
good kid, m.A.A.d. city is, to be clear, a striking achievement. Yet the truest strength of the album is that it still hits even once you’ve untangled its various knots. The complex narrative is a leap in ambition for Lamar, but in doing so he’s retained the elements of his writing that made him famous in the first place. On his last album, Section.80, he showed a keen eye for observing, analyzing and understanding those close to him, and it’s from that place this record grows.
Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man: New one from Natasha Khan explores heartache, war and hauntings. It’s a little more stripped back than her last two efforts — fewer swirling synths, more piano and percussion, and Khan’s voice is more front-and-center. I talked to her about that in this interview. Of the record, Barry Walters says:
Over and over again, Khan sings of lovers traumatized by the past, and how those ghosts haunt the present. In the album’s most immediate track “All Your Gold,” Khan sings of “a good man” that she struggles to trust with a heart that a previous lover turned black. She often adopts a motherly protector role, as on the percussive “Rest Your Head,” but she also battles with her own demons: In the slow-burning title track, she aims to heal a wounded soul, but admits, “Yes, your ghosts have got me too.”
Gary Clark, Jr., Blak and Blu — Burgeoning blues-guitar hero’s breakout moment arrives. Bill Murphy writes:
True guitar heroes don’t come along often. So when one threatens to break into the pantheon, it tends to get some notice. Clark carries with him all the charisma and mystique of a young “savior of the blues,” as he’s been touted, but his musical vision is much more complex.
Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold: Lemme just start by saying that this is one of my FAVORITE RECORDS OF 2012. Man oh man. The shorthand I’ve been using on this is “Jonathan Richman fronting Wire,” but that doesn’t even quite capture it. Throttling indie rock topped with wiseass vocals and some of the smartest, funniest lyrics I’ve heard in a long, long time. If you are not, after 10 minutes, repeating the opening song’s vocal hook — “Forget about it!” — to anyone who will listen, then I just don’t understand you as a person. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. FORGET ABOUT IT!
Diamond Rings, Free Dimensional â€“ Glam-pop singer sheds the glitter and goes for the gold. Marissa Muller writes:
Now that the glitter has settled, Diamond Rings (aka Canadian artist and musician Johnny O’Regan) takes an understated approach on sophomore album Free Dimensional. His debut Special Affectations mostly chronicled O’Regan’s metamorphosis from the frontman to the D’Ubervilles, into Johnny O, strutting glam pop singer. Free Dimensional completes the transition, with O. stepping out from behind the behind rainbow eye makeup and lo-fi production. The more spacious arrangements are aided by producer Damian Taylor (BjÃ¶rk, the Killers, Robyn), who help Diamond Rings achieve a sleeker, futuristic sound, with overt nods to Grace Jones in the dancefloor ringer “Hand Over My Heart,” Annie Lennox in the minimal thumper “I’m Just Me,” and David Bowie in the propulsive singalong “Runaway Love.”
Of Montreal, Daughter of Cloud: Rarities compilation from these kooks gathers up a bunch of odds and ends from the Hissing Fauna era that never turned up anywhere else. Fun!
U.S. Girls, GEM — Lo-fi scruff-pop gets new-wave upgrade. Annie Zaleski writes:
The music created by U.S. Girls (the recording moniker of Meghan Remy) has always used a very specific palette of sounds: muffled vocals, sludgy static, droning keyboards and hollow drums. But save for a few exceptionsâ€”such as her loopy, theatrical take on the Brandy/Monica classic ’90s jam “The Boy is Mine”â€”Remy’s unsettled noise sculptures haven’t typically boasted much defined direction or structural clarity. GEM, U.S. Girls’ fourth album, changes that: Although Remy again worked with long-time collaborator Slim Twig, the record boasts higher production values and focused arrangements. “Rosemary” feels like an outtake from Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, what with its alien analog synths and Remy’s wavering trills, while “Work From Home” is full of brittle, hypnotizing plinking keyboards.
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Lost Songs: Rambunctious Texans are back with another batch of dense and domineering rock songs. This one sounds a little more straightfoward than the epic concept albums of the past, a lot more hard-driving punk, a lot fewer Epic Suites.
The Doors, Live at the Bowl ’68: The Doors live at the Bowl in ’68.
Pig Destroyer, Book Burner — Brutal, visceral extreme metal band continue to hone their attack on the satisfyingly bludgeoning new Book Burner. Jon Wiederhorn writes:
Like other extreme acts, Pig Destroyer write songs about murder, insanity and mayhem, but there’s something grimier and more disconcerting about their tunes than your average Cannibal Corpse gorefest. With the release of 2004â€²s Terrifyer, the band was already rising above the constraints of traditional grindcore, incorporating industrial sound bites, death-groove riffs, doomy atmospherics and math-metal tempo changes into their schizophrenic songs. Brutally misanthropic, their songs grimly reflects the rage, intensity and social disconnect of minds on the edge.
The Secret, Agnus Dei — Savage, enveloping Italian thrash metal. Here’s Beverly Bryan with more:
Over the course of their career, Italian metal quartet The Secret has been slowly knotting together their black metal, hardcore, grind and crust influences into their own unique, blackened thrash. This process, nearly complete on 2010′s awesomely monolithic Solve et Coagula, hits its peak on fourth album Agnus Dei, an instrument of pure, cleansing punishment. The album is bathed in deep, enveloping bass frequencies, from which emerge guitarist Michael Bertoldini’s icy, strafing leads, evoking bitter, icy downpours surrounded by a pelting hail of blast beats. In more subdued sections, droners such as “Heretic Temple” come on thick and resinous enough to choke. The monotony reaches its magnificent zenith on thirteen minutes of swarming noise called “Seven Billion Graves.”
P.O.S., We Don’t Even Live Here â€“ Indie-rap firebrand releases his best record yet. Editor’s Pick. Nate Patrin writes:
P.O.S.’s career has involved so many collaborations and side projects that, by now, even his solo records feel like collective efforts that tap into the resources of a trusted group. His status as a member of indie-rap braintrust Doomtree, slow-jam supergroup Gayngs and noise cabal Marijuana Deathsquads haven’t just provided him with different stylistic guises and cohorts to bounce ideas off – as you can hear on We Don’t Even Live Here, it’s given him an artistic community to fight for and represent. If there’s one thread that runs through We Don’t Even Live Here, his fourth and best solo record, it’s the idea that this kind of solidarity is a good excuse to get some real pushback. Andrew Dawson, whose experience behind the boards on a grip of Kanye records rubs off on this record’s anthemic sheen while making sure to keep it grimy enough to cause a fire hazard.
Oren Ambarchi, Connected: I’m pretty into this dude. Kind of atmospheric, guitar-based experimental music. Lots of shadow and moodiness, and songs that gradually build to create a sense of dread.
Oh No & Chris Keys, Ashes: My brother’s name is Chris Keyes, and he is a producer, so seeing this record has made me chuckle every time. This is not my brother, it is another producer named Chris Keys, and he’s teamed with the versatile rapper Oh No for more of that boom-bap style hip-hop we all love so much.
Darling Farah, Body Remixed: Handful of remixes from the lovely, moody Darling Farah record that came out earlier in the year. This is a little glitchier and more minimal than that one, but still great.
The Sword, Apocryphyon: You know the drill: ballsy, NWOBHM-inspired metal with lots of busy fretwork, ten-ton riffing and only the tiniest bit of irony.
Vinnie Paz, God of the Serengeti: Big, swoopy soundtrack-style hip-hop — lots of strings, lots of gusto, lots of bravado — plus Paz’s huff ‘n’ puff delivery.
Father Finger, Father Finger: A new one from one of my favorite labels, Not Not Fun. You know the drill: super blippy, Commodore 64-style electronic music, icy and primitive. God bless these kids.
GRMLN, Explore: This is some lush, lo-key indie rock. Glimmering, latticework guitars, far-off, reverbed vocals, and songs whose gorgeous melodies reveal themselves slowly and gradually. Beautiful!
JC Satan, Faraway Land: I, no joke, discovered this band randomly on BandCamp the other day, and now the record is in the store. PROPHETIC. I really like this: super doomy and Swansy at points, ragged and punky at others, the whole thing is a big, rampaging wall of sound. RECOMMENDED
Dave Sumner’s Jazz Picks
Small drop this week, but some fine albums to choose from. This week’s Pick of the Week is almost certain to make my final Top Ten of 2012. Several live performances made it onto today’s column, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising since the best of Jazz often shines through in a live setting. Let’s begin…
Peggy Lee Band, Invitation: On past recordings, cellist Lee has an intoxicating pattern of songs that alternate between moments of sublime beauty and sharp dissonance. Her newest release hits both extremes, but finds resting spots for both with the confines of each track. The result is a blend of soft and harsh sounds, passages that soar and others that careen. Inventive and beautiful, and clearly unafraid to take risks. Easily, my Pick of the Week, and will likely rate pretty high on my Best of 2012 list. Just great music.
Frank Kimbrough Trio, Live at Kitano: Pianist Kimbrough is one of those musicians whose album sound perfectly nice and tasteful and elegant, but seem to lack an emotional oomph… until that moment when you sit up in your chair with the sudden realization of the music’s subtle, yet effective punch. With Jay Anderson on bass and Matt Wilson on drums, this live recording doesn’t stray from that pattern. Kimbrough finds the perfect send-off by ending the album with the lovely “Hymn.”
Joe Hertenstein, Future Drone: Free improv session with Hertenstein on drums, Joe Irabagon on tenor sax, and Achim Tang on bass. Bursts of sound, shrieks and squeals, music focused on interchange of ideas between musicians. If you’re looking for pretty melodies, look elsewhere. If you want something with a wild electrical charge, this’ll be for you.
Tim Lapthorn, Transport: Mix of solo piano, piano trio, and trio w/strings. Pianist Lapthorn has a cerebral sound to his compositions, music that simmers provocatively without ever threatening to reach a boil, which leads to some nice tension. Addition of the Navarra String Quartet a nice touch.
Ratchet Orchestra, Hemlock: A 30-piece big band, the Ratchet Orchestra tries to have it both ways… they possess the pop-music sensibilities of a traditional big band but also many of the free form improvisational techniques of the avant-garde schools of music. It all ends up sounding like big band music performed in an industrial blender. The cool thing of it is, once the novelty of the sound fades, the ingenuity of the music shines through. Nifty stuff. Find of the Week.
John Tchicai, Dell, Westergaard, Lillinger, featuring John Tchicai: Saxophonist Tchicai was one of the members of the New Sound jazz movement in the sixties, along with other greats like Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and others who made a nice home for themselves on the Impulse label. Tchicai displays that he hasn’t lost any of that intensity, and shows he’s also no less deft in wielding it. Half of the album’s hour long play time originates from a duo performance between Tchicai and vibes man Christopher Dell at a 2010 tribute to Johnny Dyani, and the other half recorded not long after with bass and drums. Tchicai can still throw out sheets of flame, but the stronger moments on this album are when he keeps things at a slow burn. Complex, yet very accessible and easy to enjoy.
Matt Brubeck, Twotet/Duextet: This recording originally came out in 2007, not sure if it’s been on eMusic previously. A duo recording by cellist Matt Brubeck and pianist David Braid. Brubeck has lent his cello to plenty of jazz performances and a decent set of indie and rock acts to boot. Braid is one of jazz’s under-sung artists, releasing a series of excellent live recordings and also a nice one with orchestra. Peaceful, elegant tunes. If you’re a sucker for cello albums, you can’t go wrong here.
Bill Laswell, Means of Deliverance: Laswell has left his mark as producer and bassist on countless classic recordings by a diverse set of musicians ranging from Brian Eno to Herbie Hancock to Iggy Pop. He’s also cast his net out wide to more diverse musics, and sparked some interesting collaborations. Intriguingly, this recording has him performing solo on a Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar, and sounding more along the lines of the spooky Americana one would expect from a Bill Frisell recording. This music, it’s quite hypnotic, pretty even.
Irene Schweizer, Many and One Direction: Piano solo album from the free improv Schweizer. This is an older recording, from back in ’96. Not sure if it’s been on eMusic previously, but I know that several of you who read this column are into the Intakt Records label releases, so consider this your heads-up.